REVIEW: Spookiest Board Games

REVIEW: Spookiest Board Games

Whoever continues to allow Halloween to happen in the middle of the week is a monster. Not a make-believe monster like a werewolf or a vampire, but a real monster, like a ghost or a Chupacabra. With Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year, most students are probably planning to either skip class on Thursday or forgo the frightening festivities altogether. But who says you need to don a costume to have a spooktacular time? We’ve amassed a list of board games that will give you your haunting fix without making you lose sleep. That is, unless you are very, very easily scared.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is the game of choice for larger groups of spook-seekers. With rules similar to the games of Mafia you were forced to play when it rained during recess, Werewolf has players each take on the role of a various villager on the quest to oust the werewolf terrorizing their town. Each game can involve up to ten players and only takes about ten minutes to complete, making it the perfect party game.

The rules of the game are fairly straightforward: players are randomly assigned roles by way of cards that are dealt out face down before the game begins, each with its own different ability and/or goal. Everyone but the werewolf is tasked with figuring out who the werewolf is, protecting their own innocence, and voting to kill the guilty party before time runs out. If the villagers vote to kill the wrong person, or if the vote is not a majority, then the werewolf wins.

It sounds simple on paper, but with the addition of roles like The Seer and The Robber, Werewolf can become delightfully difficult. Rather than classic Mafia, where accusations and rebuttals are made based on nothing but hunches, the rules of One Night Ultimate Werewolf provide the players with actual evidence to build a case off of. This makes for a quick but complex game that will finally reveal which of your friends are the best liars and schemers.

This long-awaited American translation of the polish game Tajemnicze Domostwo is the perfect mix of art and ambiance. Mysterium is a co-operative game where one player takes on the role of a ghost who can only communicate through a deck of beautifully illustrated “vision” cards. The other players act as psychics who interpret the visions they receive from the ghost in an attempt find the killer before Halloween’s end. Mysterium feels like a version of Clue with a more thought-out method of investigation. Winning or losing the game depends on the psychics’ ability to actually interpret clues, rather than just find them.

This game is best played with the included soundtrack, and with a ghost who commits to not speaking through the entire game. The only drawbacks to Mysterium are the rules added to the American version that involve voting on each psychic’s guess at the end of each round, which detracts from the game’s otherwise convincing immersion. But when played without those rules, Mysterium’s eerie aura is unrivaled.

Ghosts and murder too serious for you? Look no further than the mystery-team roleplaying game Betrayal at House on the Hill. Where Mysterium’s aesthetic calls to mind the eerie era of victorian spiritualism, Betrayal is reminiscent of campy evil-doer-antics from the era of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Also a cooperative game, Betrayal has players navigate a mysterious haunted house by flipping over shuffled room tiles, looking for whatever spooks and ghouls may be afoot. But unlike many other games with cooperative gameplay, once the evil in the house is discovered, one of the players is selected to betray the others. That player could turn into everything from a werewolf to a witch’s henchman, but their new task is always to make sure none of their former teammates escape the house alive.

With over 50 unique scenarios, each with their own rules and paths to victory (for both the turncoat and the remaining players), Betrayal is practically a different game every time you play. But while games like Mysterium and Werewolf are fairly easy to explain to players of all skill levels, Betrayal involves some traditional tabletop rules (including ability scores) that might be off putting to guests who are just in it for the haunts.

There is no shortage of Lovecraftian board games, and consequently, no shortage of dense rule books that will drive you more insane than the mind-melting sight of Cthulhu ever could. The original Arkham Horror board game is one of these cosmic horrors, with a notoriously unforgiving learning curve and a ludicrously long playtime. But the card game version, which is decidedly more approachable, makes the process of solving mysteries while clinging to your quickly waning sanity actually fun.

While it can be played alone, we highly recommend delving into the depths with someone by your side. Using a deck of cards that you put together before play starts, you each take on the persona of an investigator trying to solve the mysteries presented in one of three scenarios (more can be bought as expansions). Working together, you explore rooms, discover clues, and stumble upon horrifying monsters that you must defend yourself against.

But the best part of the game is the way it absorbs your actions into a larger narrative. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a game you can’t technically “lose,” since your many successes and failures are compounded into a unique ending. Some endings are better than others, but all of them will have you eager to return and face the cosmic horrors once again.